Within the context of the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV), held in Japan May 28-30, the World Bank Gender and Development Group, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) co-sponsored a workshop titled “The Role of Infrastructure on Women’s Economic Empowerment.”
With a line-up of distinguished speakers including Keynote Dr. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, Mr. Kazushi Hashimoto, Executive Director of JBIC, and Mrs.Obiageli K. Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice-President for Africa, the workshop brought gender and infrastructure issues to the fore of the development agenda by creating a space to share knowledge on policies, programs and projects that successfully integrated gender concerns in infrastructure design and to identify further areas of cooperation in Africa.
“Infrastructure plays a very important role in development in all countries and has a fundamental impact on people’s economic, social and cultural activities,” Mr. Hashimoto said in his opening address. “Integrating gender perspectives into infrastructure can make a positive impact on the empowerment of women. We have to strengthen gender mainstreaming in infrastructure projects in pursuit of achieving the Millennium Development Goals”
Mrs. Ezekwesili followed by stressing that with women comprising 70 to 80 % of the agricultural labor force for food crop production and processing in Africa, increasing their access to electricity and roads would lead to greater agricultural output and better food availability in markets.
“[In Africa] we see women carrying products from the farm on their head,” she said. “Now imagine the acceleration of productivity if they did not have to carry these heavy loads on their heads, if they had the necessary infrastructure with which to make agriculture truly work for African society. Every time we see women incapacitated by the unavailability of infrastructure, they are foregoing very important activities that they should otherwise be applying themselves to, like going to school or engaging in income-earning activities that would improve their lives and those of their families.”
Mrs. Ezekwesili also discussed the Bank’s initiatives on gender and infrastructure housed under the Gender Action Plan (GAP), Gender Equality as Smart economics, which places emphasis on women’s access to infrastructure as a key to their economic empowerment. The GAP has so far allocated $1.3 million to the Africa region, including funding for a regional study to better understand Gender, Infrastructure and Time Use in Africa.
In an inspiring keynote speech, President Johnson-Sirleaf exposed the infrastructure-related? challenges faced by women in post-conflict countries like Liberia. “We inherited a devastated country with damaged infrastructure, a country without electricity or running water,” President Johnson-Sirleaf explained. “Our market women spend a lot of time travelling under poor transport conditions at high costs, to be able to bring goods to the market to feed the population. The lack of storage facilities means that their perishable goods suffer spoilage, thereby reducing the little profit margin they were able to get.” President Johnson-Sirleaf discussed the far-reaching societal consequences of the lack of infrastructure, including an increase in HIV/AIDS infection rates linked to gender-based violence occurring as a consequence of girls being out of school and vulnerable.
President Johnson-Sirleaf continued by stating the importance of involving women in the construction of infrastructure services to position them as stakeholders in their society.
“Let me tell you something about the urban works and the road construction program,” President Johnson-Sirleaf said. “Women are so anxious to get ahead, because they want to be a part of society, they go beyond the extra mile. So you see women breaking rocks, to ensure that the roads have gravel. And some of them have begun to so excel that they have become the supervisors [of road constructions]. They keep the tally to make sure the men come to work. They are proud of doing that because they feel that now they are true stakeholders in their society.”
With funding from the GAP and UNICEF program amongst others, President Johnson-Sirleaf said that programs such as the Liberian Education Trust that aims to rehabilitate and construct 50 schools, and the Market Women Fund designed to improve the conditions for market women were progressing significantly.(video at World Bank YouTube Channel)
The three panels of the workshop addressed infrastructure in relation to women’s entrepreneurship, social empowerment and risks and vulnerabilities. David Donaldson, IFC Senior Manager, presented the Village Phone Program implemented in towns in Nigeria and three other countries. The program encourages women to become entrepreneurs by providing them with a cellular phone kit containing an antenna that provides a 20 km radius coverage. This enables the user to provide telephony services to the villagers. With her revenue from this activity, one woman was able to start a small agrobusiness that sells farm inputs to the community.
Ms. Bharati Chaturvedi, President and Founder of the Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, which runs the program “Women Entrepreneurs in Urban Waste Management” in India presented the work of the association to train women waste pickers to offer an efficient urban infrastructure service: picking up
waste from houses and composting it. This proves to be of great service to the cities and helps the women increase their income.
As part of the panel on social empowerment, Mr. Takeo Ishikawa, Division Director of Water Resources and Disaster Management Group of JICA, presented Japan’s cooperation for rural water in Senegal. The Safe Water and Community Participation in Senegal program (PEPTAC), enabled the construction of a water pipeline with public water taps in 119 facilities. Women participated in the design and management of this sustainable and safe water supply. The impact on recipient communities is significant. The time women need to obtain potable water went down from 5 to 6 hours a day to 2 hours a day, freeing up time for education, and giving them a more equal voice.
Other themes included the gender dimension of infrastructure and climate change, the food crisis, and disaster and waste management.
The Chair of the workshop, Ms. Dominique Lallement, World Bank Gender and Infrastructure Consultant, and formerly Energy Adviser, closed the workshop by calling on participants and attendees to work with the Bank’s Gender Action Plan: “The Gender action Plan of the World Bank is both a framework but it is also a way of working together, of pulling resources for seed projects. ?We believe that will enable all of us to accelerate the mainstreaming of gender in our policies programs and projects.”
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